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Last summer, I got a call from a city official who was upset about a story we’d published. Specifically, he said there were some factual errors.
This scenario – where an Important Person calls and says you messed up facts – that’s the stuff of my nightmares. And the reporter who’d written the story had just left for vacation, so I couldn’t even be immediately assured what we’d run was right.
Still, I was far more zen than I had any right to be. That’s because when that Important Person described his grievances, my gut told me instantly: Liam Dillon doesn’t make those mistakes. Everyone slips up now and then, sure, but Liam painstakingly ekes out the precise wording of each line so it’s unassailable.
Sure enough, I pored through court records and other source documents, and every word he’d written was airtight.
It’s a special reporter who can give an editor the luxury of not freaking out when a call like that comes in. As you probably know, Liam just finished up his last week with us. It goes without saying he’ll be missed very much, and we can’t wait to see what he does in Sacramento.
I did a little exit interview with Liam that is, spoiler alert, not very hard-hitting:
During your time here at Voice, you put together a number of high-impact, long-form investigations. On emergency response times, on police racial profiling, on a Mexican businessman’s feud with Sempra, among many others. But you were also one of the best at quicker stories explaining the complexities and the absurdities of city government. Can you share one or two of your favorites of those?
My favorite had to be the one where I explained how a lease-revenue bond worked. I really enjoyed breaking down difficult-to-understand topics in a way that was accessible to regular people and showed why they mattered to their everyday lives. And I enjoyed trying to figure out how to do stories in non-traditional ways. And I enjoyed having fun. The best part of that story was the stock photo of the Wall Street brokers thrilled to get all the city’s money. Or the big red “X” over Richard Rider’s face. (Richard was a great sport about it.)
Over the last year-plus, you’ve taken on some editing duties on top of reporting. Did that change anything for you as far as how you approach writing?
Yes. All the suggestions I would make to reporters about tightening the main points of their stories and making stronger narrative transitions would stick in my head while I was trying to write. But the bigger thing was how I dealt with editors. I used to think that as a reporter it was my job to come up with options when I had problems and then the editor would pick the best solutions. Then when reporters did that to me as an editor, I realized I had no idea what to do. Since then, I’ve tried to just simply do stuff on my own or give an editor a strong recommendation before asking them anything.
Let’s just come out and say it: You’re leaving us with a big void. Who do you think is likeliest to step up and fill your shoes when it comes to a very important role you’ve played in this community – I’m talking, of course, about refilling the office water jug.
No question. It’s Mario Koran. When I first met him, I knew he was a football player. Not just that. I knew he was the kind of football player who wore neck roll shoulder pads like Mike Alstott of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And I was right! Mario did play football and he did wear neck roll shoulder pads like Mike Alstott of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Please rank these Sacramento animal celebrities: Norm Lopez, Sutter Brown, Slamson the Lion. Explain your choices.
- Sutter Brown. Quite possibly the best political animal in America.
- Norm Lopez. Fat animals are almost as funny as fat guy touchdowns.
- Slamson the Lion. I had to Google him so …
You’ve been in Sacramento a while. You come back to San Diego for a visit. The first thing you do is:
Drink an Alesmith. Then visit Voice of San Diego.
What VOSD Learned This Week
Are you familiar with the term side-eye? It’s the look you give when you really aren’t prepared to buy what someone’s selling.
There was a lot of side eye being thrown at various government proposals this week:
Mayor Kevin Faulconer is wary of a plan to put a new stadium downtown, and pair it with a Convention Center expansion that’s not attached to the current bayside facility.
The city’s water department and the U.S. Navy are wary of a proposal to put a massive fish farm off the coast of Mission Bay.
Residents in southeastern San Diego are wary the process to replace their school board representative will be transparent and open.
And transit advocates are wary of SANDAG’s proposals for how to spend billions of dollars if voters approve a tax increase this November.
One unexpected consequence of Marne Foster’s resignation: The Pools for Schools initiative is now in jeopardy. Another candidate jumped into the race to replace Foster this week. She’ll face LaShae Collins, who told us about her priorities on this week’s podcast.
Encinitas’ experiment with using granny flats to boost affordable housing stock has failed – yet city leaders are reluctant to give it up.
What I’m Reading
• Read this awesome Q-and-A with 22-year-old Harvard Lampoon editor-turned-“Veep” writer Alexis Wilkinson and be assured that the kids are all right. (Rookie)
• This piece describing a Donald Trump rally in New Hampshire is just a good old-fashioned piece of political analysis done right. (L.A. Times)
• A revealing look at the country’s affordable housing crisis, told through a single mother being evicted and the landlord-to-the-poor forced to do the evicting. (New Yorker)
Line of the Week
“All conversation stops, all eyes turn to look JED BARTLET up and down. Though he’s an alluring, auburn-locked looker, he will let slip a few crucial bits of knowledge from inside his pretty little head.” – From a piece that imagines what film and TV scripts would sound like if screenwriters introduced male characters the same way they do female characters.